All the leading Esos of the village, the elders and chives were present at the Obas palace. Ade was one of the last to arrive and to his astonishment the moment he walked into the palace one of the prominent village chiefs openly challenged him.
”Ade! You are not a titleholder, therefore you are not needed here, go home ” the chief shot in rage
”And who made you the judge of this village ” the Balogun retorted ”he goes nowhere, even though he is not an Eso, he is an Iba, a true lord of this village ”
”And he will be awarded his chieftaincy title in two market days ” the Oba pronounced ”therefore Ori-Alaramide I would order you to sit down and hold your peace ”
Ori-Alaramide humbly obeyed the Oba but sat down defiantly the Balogun eyed Ori-Alaramide with absolute disapproval while the Oba ignored him. The Balogun was an elderly man in his late 70s who retained his position based on his prior achievements rather than on his present capabilities as an Ẹṣọ. His experience as an Ẹṣọ also contributed to his long reign as the Balogun of Ilu-ino, in truth the Balogun was more powerful than the king because of the authority designated to him. The Balogun is placed in charge of all the village warriors and due to the nature of his position answers only to the Baṣọrun of their province who in turn receives orders from the Alaafin of the Yoruba empire, meaning that his status is equal to that of any local Oba, their major duty is the villages defence and the moonly (monthly) tribute to the Alaafin. The local Oba, on the other hand, is in control of the social and economic development of the village.
Ade was grateful for the Baloguns intervention if he hadn intervened Ade would have humbly walked away to avoid an unnecessary conflict, though Ade had many friends he also had a few envious enemies and ”Ori-Alara ” was chief among them, though they started as friends, the friendship was doomed to evolve into a bitter rivalry over time. This is because of the curse that the ancestral head of the Alaramide tribe unwittingly placed upon himself in his folly.
The Alaramide Tribe is considered to be the most prestigious tribe in the whole of the Yoruba empire not just in the village, ”The lion Tribe ” they are popularly called, and the status of the high chief of the lion tribe is almost equal to that of a local Oba, their sons are treated like princes and it is rumoured that some of the greatest warriors were the seeds of the Alaramide tribe. This made Ori-Alaramide one of the most powerful and most influential men in the whole of the Yoruba Empire, he lives based on the belief that he is the most powerful Eso in Ilu-ino village and within the blindness of his pride considered it a sin for anyone else to be stronger than he is, except for the Balogun.
To the shock of Ori-Alara someone called the ”crown of all hunters ” came into the village, and now this so-called crown-hunter wants to rob him of his hard-earned position as the strongest in the village. Ade was a good-natured, kind-hearted person who would use any means to help others in need, including showing his true powers, which was beyond everyones comprehension a power that even the Oloriẹbi (Family head) of the Alaramide tribe had no choice but to acknowledge.
In his rage and jealousy, Ori-Alara formulated a plan that would put him in his rightful position as the most feared warrior of the village without attracting too much attention to himself, a plan that would humble the fool hunter and give him his much-deserved glory. Against his pride, Ori-Alara asked Ade to teach some of his strongest chants to the other Ẹṣọs hoping to improve on the strength of the village, an idea that Ade embraced happily. In actual fact he had no intention of sharing any of those chants with the other Ẹṣọs, he wanted it all for himself.
”Fool ” Ori-Alara mocked ”by teaching me your chants ill become stronger, then Ill learn your weakness and use that weakness to overpower you, calming what rightfully belongs to me ”.
At least that was what he thought until he noticed that Ade was also teaching the same chant to others, as well as the counter chants and the weaknesses. Ori-Alara was enraged by Ades actions; he had even been tempted to pick a fight with him but held his peace, his greed for all of Ades chants stayed his rage. He had no intention of sharing the chants with anyone else, they were his by right. ”Ade is such a fool, why? Why are fools the ones blessed with unlimited power ”.
Another bad taste in their ever-growing feud was the fact that the Balogun of the village suddenly dared to announce that the next Balogun of the village would be his female apprentice. ”A female!! ” The idea of a female being placed in a position of authority was completely unacceptable and this gave Ori-Alara a bitter taste in his tongue, but to his shock, the one person who should share in his own opinion supported the Baloguns decision.
The actions of Ade the crowned hunter caused the rest of all the influential chiefs to lend in their support for the Baloguns decision to make his female apprentice, his successor, another addition to the long list of Ori-Alaras failure. Then the last of Ades impulsive decisions was when he decided to take Adebisi the daughter of one of the most respected titleholders for his wife, the same girl that he had intended to make his third wife, there and then he made the decision to kill his rival and end his meddling once and for all.
The first attempt Ori-Alara made on Ades life was on his Childs naming ceremonies. He planted a lethal poison in Ades meal hoping that it would be his last; Ori-Alara had hoped that the poison would save him the trouble of killing Ade with his bare hands at the same time eliminate all forms of suspicions directed at him, a flawless plan, or so he taught. He had forgotten that the mighty have a special kind of immunity that protects them from lesser poisons such as the one he had just used on Ade ”oshi!! (Foolish) ” he cursed. He finally snapped two weeks before Ades wedding to Bisi, hoping to put an end to his rival for the last and final time
”I challenge you, ” he taunted ”to the death!! ”
”Why? ” Ade asked, confused ”I thought we were friends ”
”We were never friends, I was just using you to gain more power and to increase my social status ” Ori-Alara replied
”I don want to fight you, ” Ade said finally hoping to end the tension between them, but it was fruitless, the curse had consumed Ori-Alaras mind the same way venom would slowly kill the vipers prey, he was beyond reason.
”Are you afraid of dying, are you afraid to make Adebisi a widow or are you afraid of losing her love to me ” Ori-Alara taunted
”And what if I refuse ” Ade barked, losing the least amount of control that he had assumed he suppressed through sheer will ”tell me, what would you do if I refused to fight ”
”Then I will force Adebisi to become my wife, after all, she is a beautiful compensation for all the insults that have been done on my person ”
”Is this how cold your soul has become? ” Ade said, horrified by Ori-Alaras words, though he made no indications in his facial expression.
”Life is not about compassion; it is about ones personal achievement his trials and his conquests, ” the Tribal head pronounced ”and above all how many foes he is able to destroy. By the pride of my tribe, I will put an end to your arrogance ”
Ori-Alaras pronouncement gave Ade the sudden realisation that the head of the Alaramide tribe is a man blinded by ambition, greed and power.
”The predator will never have any form of compassion on its prey ” Ade finally responded after a short pause, ”very well, I will fight you and I hope you live to regret the decision you have made this day ”
”Fool by this time tomorrow Adebisi will be sleeping in my bed, because, youll be dead ” Ori-Alara gloated
At dawn the next day the battle commenced, a battle that would be remembered for many years because it was on that day that the greatness of the Alaramide tribe began to wane, Ori-Alara lost sourly, despite all his efforts, and all his chants Ori-Alara discovered the great gap that existed between himself and Ade. It was as though Ade the hunter had experience classed above that of an elite warrior of Yoruba land, he fought at an entirely different level, even the Balogun was impressed after all it was the first time that the whole village had seen him in action. But the greatest of Ori-Alaras shame stroke him early the next morning when he woke up with sours, bruises, broken bones and so on; the cursed hunter had spared his life. An insult above all others, to be denied the glory of death after such a great battle ”how dare you, Ade! I curse you!! I hope you die a tormented death, curse you! Curse you!! Curse you!!! ”
Thus, their enmity bloomed until today.
The Oba raised his royal staff, signalling for absolute silence and rapt attention, the Ifa priest rose suddenly from his stool and faced the men of the village expressing his displeasure through the vicious look in his eye. It was the king who spoke with the hope of easing the tension before the furious priest took over.
”Elders, warriors and lords of our land I greet you ” the king spoke ”the purpose of calling this urgent meeting is to find a quick solution to the curse that is about to consume our land when the hawk takes a chick from the hen will the hen be silent, it is time for the warriors of this village to rise and take up this challenge ”
”Enough words of distraction ” Ori-Alara called out impatiently ”tell us what foul deed has been committed ”
”The village shrine has been defiled by female feet and the great stone that shields this village from evil spirits has been taken ” the Ifa priest voiced maliciously
”Ewooooooo!! ” They all shouted, meaning forbidden
”This is an Abomination! How and when did it happen? ” Baba Lakan asked
”It happened at midnight ” the Ifa priest responded ”when mortal men sleep and the spirits hunt ”
”There must be a solution to this problem, ” the Iya-Lode said calmly
”There is ” the Ifa priest spoke ”the oracle spoke to me this morning and revealed part the identities of those who stole the sacred stone ”
”And who are they? ” Ade asked filled with anticipation
”These are the words of the oracle he stone is with the daughters of the forest those are the exact words ” the priest replied
”There were similar thefts in three other villages ” the Balogun Observed
”This is true, those reports have also reached my ears, and I just assumed that such misfortune would not reach the borders of Ilu-ino ” the king added
”We the Ibas and Ẹṣọs of this village vow to search the land until we have retrieved that which was stolen to its rightful place ” the Balogun pronounced
”And we the hunters of Ilu-ino vow to assist the Ẹṣọs in any way we can ” Ade added following the Baloguns example
”This is not a hunting expedition, ” Ori-Alara snapped in his bitterness ”allow the real men to handle this mission ”
”The hunters know the forest far more than the warriors do ” the Balogun responded ”and they can read the footsteps of strangers better than anyone here, the hunters will be included in this mission ”
Ade wasn fooled, he knew that the Balogun was trying to humble Ori-Alaras pride, to put him in his place for being so aggressive towards Ade, but no action is enough to cure the Alaramide tribe of its curse, so regrettably Ade had to endure every taunt that Ori-Alara threw at him.
”I agree ” the Ifa priest added ”every able-bodied man is required to recover the sacred stone ”
”The hunters will follow ” The king pronounced ”and you Ori-Alara don ever bring your domestic quarrels here again ” the king scolded to Ori-Alaras bitterness
Ade couldn resist the grinning temptation; after all, it isn every day that he would have the pleasure of watching Ori-Alara being scolded. He was glad for the support of both the Balogun and the Ifa priest, with their support he can boldly match round the village without being molested by those faithful to the head of the Alaramide tribe.
”You will assemble at the Baloguns house in the evening to receive further instructions ” the king pronounced ”until then you are dismissed ”
Everyone greeted the king and waited for him to leave the throne room before they, in turn, stood up to leave the palace, Baba Lakan walked over to Ades side and smiled, Ade could tell that he had an idea that he is dying to share it with the Balogun.
”Balogun! Ooo! ” Baba Lakan called out facing the Balogun, who was busy talking with one of the other chiefs
”Yes! ” The Balogun responded
”Lets make the search more interesting, ” he suggested
”And how do you propose to do that? ” The Balogun asked, still not understanding Baba Lakans words
”Something to encourage hard work, a motivator ” he replied with a sly grin
”Yes, I agree ” Ade added comically, grasping Baba Lakans meaning ”lets all place bets, whoever finds out the secret behind the missing stone or finds out where it is located, wins ”
”Indeed, this is a good suggestion ” the Balogun commented, ”se fowosi? ” (Are we all in favour?)
”A fowosi ” (we are all in favour) the rest of the men agreed
”Then every man will bid 50 strings when we gather in the evening ” the Balogun commanded as he dismissed the warriors
As the warriors were moving away a few of them decided to stay behind to discuss the recent happenings of the village and the quickest means of finding a solution to the problems. Baba Lakan hurried over to his friend Ade hoping to catch up on anything new that the hunter would like to share and to pressure him into taking up a few more members into his hunting party.
” Ade voiced before Baba Lakan could say anything
e going to lend me some money ”
”Ha! You should have told me earlier, now I don have any money ” Baba Lakan replied with a laugh, ”besides I need some money for myself as well ”
”Baba Lakan, you are on your own ” Ade chuckled
Of course, they both had the money adequate to handle their expenses; each man was trying to trick the other into giving him some extra change
”Are you two going to your farms? ” A familiar voice resounded from behind, which surprised both men
They quickly turned to gaze at the newcomer, to find out it was the Baloguns female apprentice ”Lara ” the woman who has a lot of complicated arguments, meant to make Ades life miserable.
”Iba-Ogun Lara, ” Baba Lakan greeted with a smile as Ade groaned in disappointment ”ever since the Balogun named you his successor, you have been acting like a male warrior ” he continued
”To be a Balogun one must be as brave and as daring as a man ” she replied, gloatingly ”so my actions are quite natural ”
”At least respect the fact that we are men and you are a woman ” Baba Lakan said
”No, ” she countered, and then dismissed Baba Lakan formally to face Ade ”so have you considered my offer? ”
Ade smiled at the irony. She was asking him to make her his second wife a concept that sounds completely impossible. Ade wondered who had been filling her head with such foolish ideas. What would he tell Bisi his wife, the thought of it still brought shivers down his spine?
”Ogunlara this is my reply to your proposal ” Ade responded ”only a fool would take you for a wife, such a fool would live in constant fear of his domestic household. You would be the husband and he the wife, I don want to be that fool ”
”Ade! ” Baba Lakan interrupted, ”why are you rejecting Ogunlara. Just look at her, she is the physical representation of pure beauty; she has everything a man wants in a woman. If I were you, I would marry her ”
”If you were me ” Ade snapped, ”you would run fast without looking back ”
”Adeeee!! ” Ogunlara voiced, playfully ”I am a woman, just like any other woman, our bodies respond to the touch of a man in the same manner and… ”
”Wait, ” Baba Lakan said, cutting off Ogunlaras speech of seduction ”was it not just now that you said you had the pride of a man, now you are saying that you are a woman. Pick one are you a man or are you a woman? ”ma lakan pect the fact that we are men and you are a woman
Baba Lakan and Ogunlara had a deep respect for each other they had a strong friendship since childhood, but sometimes his sarcastic remarks get under her skin and the last one is no exemption. She was about to respond in anger when Ade added another remark of his own.
”Tell me Lara ” Ade said, with a sly smile, ”Why are you running after another womans husband, is it because you are unable to find one for yourself ”
The emotional response in Ogunlaras face was unnerving, several angry veins perturbed on her temple and Ade could tell that it took all of her willpower to keep her voice in an even tone.
”Adebisi is the lucky one, I loved you Ade, but I was not fast enough. Adebisi… ” she replied stressing the last word with a tone of jealousy ”she was always soft, a woman with her mind, never listening to what others say about anyone ”
”And you? ” Ade inquired
”I was a fool to listen to the gossips and the lies fabricated by others concerning you, which was why I kept my distance, ” she replied with a tone of regret ”Adebisi won the prize and as for me, I can only beg to be your second wife ”
”I almost cried ” Baba Lakan mocked ”that story almost won my heart, except, if I remembered clearly; you were the one who instigated that rumour ”
All of a sudden Lara started to fidget, and from the way her eyebrows furrowed, Ade could tell that she was rummaging through her witty mind for the next thing to say to achieve her goals. He needed a way to outwit her before she decides to pull the ”love me or I die ” routine
”Why don you go and marry Ori-Alara the chief of the Alaramide tribe, I heard that he was very gentle with his last wife ”
The reaction that Lara gave Ade wasn the one that he had expected. He could tell that the volcanic nature of Ogunlaras rage had reached its boiling point, Lara had a strong grudge against Ori-Alara, and Ade had foolishly mentioned the name at an inappropriate time. As Ogunlara opened her mouth to shout the Baloguns keen high-pitched voice penetrated the entire village demanding the attention of his Iwofia (apprentice). With practised obedience, Ogunlara stiffened and then responded with a high pitched voice ”Oooo Aba ” (yes elder)
”Ogunlara! I want you in my presence now! ” The Balogun shouted, Ogunlara froze at that same instant then showed signs of worry on her face like she had done something wrong and then Ogunlara ran off to answer the Baloguns call. Ade and Babalakan gave a sigh of relief and then rushed off before she could return to make another one of her absurd demands, it was then that Babalakan chose to make a comment
”Is it a crime to be handsome? ” they both laughed
Ogunlara rushed towards her teacher and Mentor to see why he had summoned her. The Balogun sat down in his large hut patiently putting things in order, he had 5 long benches arranged neatly with several gourd shells on the table filled with palm wine. It was as though he was expecting some guests.
”You were trying to win his heart again ” the Balogun scolded ”why! Especially when you know that he is already married ”
”Because… ” Lara began, but then thought better of it and held her tongue
”Is it because he supported you and also encouraged the whole village to pronounce you the Balogun as soon as my time is done? ”
”And because he has a good heart… ” Ogunlara promptly added
”And that is why Adebisi is wiser than you ” the Balogun shot, ”because she knows Ade as a man of many secrets and once you know just one of those secrets, you would fear him rather than love him ”
”But… ” Ogunlara protested
”You are young and in your youth, you show foolishness. To succeed as the next Balogun, you must understand the world that we live in hides many mysteries, some of these mysteries are as sweet as honey others are equal to the venom of a snake ”
”Im ready to learn, ” Ogunlara said in a determined voice, trying to prove to her master that he was not wrong in his decision to make her his successor. For some reason, she could sense the independent level of his understanding, and the mockery hidden in his eyes told her that his comprehension of the situation vastly overshadowed her own. It was as though he knew the results of her actions and simply decided to overlook her childish behaviour.
”There are powers out there, powers above and beneath the soil, as the ants live in the soil and birds in the trees, such is the depth of his mystery. Ogunlara, you are not ready. ”
”Such powers will not escape me, I am strong, ” she voiced with determination
”Ogunlara! ” The Balogun thought, a girl who has been in his service for the past 6 years. Since then she had learned a lot of forbidden chants and incantations. Within a short period, she had exceeded all his expectations, developing chants that even he described as unimaginable. Her development was so outstanding that he feared she would be corrupted by the overwhelming scope of her talent. A fear put to rest because of her feminine weaknesses.
Her overwhelming strength had made her bold and extremely overconfident, the Balogun had hoped to humble her or to teach her the concept of modesty and humility to prevent her from being too ambitious. The Balogun smiled, she might have her flaws, but she more than makes up for it with her hard work.
”What about them? ” He asked sarcastically, pointing towards the benches that Ogunlara had assumed was otherwise unoccupied. To her shock the 5 benches now hosted several occupants, black humanoid forms helping themselves to the palm wine the Balogun had left for the occasion. The moment Ogunlara realized how vulnerable she had become with her back exposed to the enemy attack; she immediately took action reflexively turning around to attack the black demons before they had the chance to kill her first.
”Don ” the Balogun commanded, sensing that his appearance was about to do something irrational. Ogunlara who had turned a deaf ear to the instructions of her master got set to attack, bracing herself to use one of the forbidden chants in her arsenal. The Balogun was too slow in his reaction and found it difficult to stop his pupil from making a drastic mistake. She had begun to chant and from the look in her eyes, he could tell that she had every intention of slaying the strangers in his humble hut without a second thought.
”LARA! ” He shouted
In an instant 4 king-sized Astral forms in the shape of bird claws appeared from thin air, the claws grabbed a hold of her legs and her hands penetrated her tender skin drawing blood. Lara gave an audible groan in reaction to the pain but refused to scream and gazed at her captors defiantly.
”Is this the way you welcome a guest? ” One of the beings inquired.
”Please forgive her, she is young and in her youth makes foolish decisions, she is pruned to making errors, ọmọde n ṣe (Just a child) ” the Balogun pleaded
”Is this your so-called Otun-Balogun the one who is next in line to your office? ” The mysterious being asked mockingly
”She has the power ” the Balogun replied, ”what she lacks is the wisdom to apply it, with her overwhelming strength, there will be overwhelming overconfidence ”
”Humph ” the being signed in reply, then released Ogunlara with a casual wave
To her humiliation Ogunlara fell flat on her face the moment the strangers released her, she felt a slight tang of nausea and a slight ache in every joint of her body. She immediately started healing herself, whispering the healing chant beneath her breath while hiding her face from the intruders as she had earlier assumed. It is a basic Ilu-ino combat principle that all females are to master the healing chant before they can be sent to the field. The policy ended several seasons ago when a male showed unique talents in his method of healing.
”Our presence here is not to exchange pleasantries, but to receive an answer ” another one of the black beings voiced ”have you considered our proposal? ” From all indications this new voice had far more authority than the previous one Ogunlara observed: ”well Balogun of Ilu-ino, speak! ”
The Balogun was silent for a while, Ogunlara realised that her mentor had deliberately waited and delayed the answer to consider its benefits and its consequences. She could tell from the look in his eyes that the decision had already been made, but nothing official had been done about it yet. What is this decision she wondered? ”Humph ” the Balogun signed in his deep voice
”And what is your answer? ” The black being inquired again
”Forgive me for the delay ” the Balogun finally responded ”an old man with grey hair upon his head will never be too hasty in giving a reply especially when that decision will affect his entire village ”
”This village is my responsibility, as the Balogun, it is my duty to protect every life here. It is my oath to Oduduwa and my conscience. This is what makes us Ẹṣọs the true lords of the Yoruba Empire ”
”Those are strong words ” the second being voiced ”but strike the grass with the sharp end of the cutlass, what is your answer, will you accept our offer, think of the benefits. Your village will grow stronger and it will be given far stronger protection than it has now, we will become the hidden shadows protecting Ilu-ino ”
”What are you talking about? ” Ogunlara interrupted, speaking out of turn, with a tone of suspicion in her voice
”Nothing that concerns you little girl ” the third shadow replied, raising its formless hands towards Ogunlara, in an instant she felt all the power in her body drain as if a leech had sucked her life force with a touch, this being had held her spellbound while the others continued their conversation oblivious of her presence.
She didn trust these strange people, why are they concealing their identities or have they made a covenant with the darkness itself? And the negotiations, why does it sound like a conversation between the spider and a fly ”master ” she thought ”please say no ”
”It gladdens my heart that among all the villages in this province, you decided to come to Ilu-ino, any other village would have jumped at this opportunity and I would be a fool to reject it ” the Balogun continued with a half-smile
”So do you agree? ” The black being pressed on
”Yes! ” The Balogun acknowledged ”I agree to your terms ”
Ogunlara felt a lump in her throat, while the strangers stood up to congratulate themselves for a successful meeting.
The second black being stepped forward and addressed the Balogun formally and from the tone of his voice Ogunlara could tell that hes in a jovial mood ”these are my chiefs ” gesturing to the other covered strangers ”they are the ones who have spoken well about this village which is why it was chosen. In two market days, my eagle and the gift of my village will arrive ”
”And I will be waiting ” the Balogun replied
The black beings stood up from their benches and walked towards the front door. The illusion of their appearance can confuse any living thing Ogunlara observed. When they sat down on the stools, it was as though they were ordinary men, but when they stood upon their feet, they seem to expand both in height and in width. The moment they walked outside the door they vanished into thin air and Ogunlara was set free.
”Humph, when will you learn to think before you act ” the Balogun scolded ”they could have killed you ”
”Who are they? ” She demanded, for some reason, the trust she had for this man began to waver ”tell me, who were those people and why have you sold the freedom of the people of Ilu-ino village ”
”The youth of these days ” the Balogun signed, as though he had reached the end of his patience with her ”those men are representatives of the province, in other words, they are our provincial masters ”
”Errrr! ” Ogunlara signed realising her mistake
”You have shamed me ” the Balogun continued ”by insulting my guests ”
”Forgive me master ” Ogunlara pleaded
”You have a lot to learn, ” the Balogun said with a touch of anger in his voice, then he walked away, which is the only way he could overcome the temptation of beating her like a child
Ogunlara felt bad about her actions and also thought about how it shamed her master, how she is ever going to gain his approval. Now she is beginning to doubt if she will ever be ready for the position of Balogun
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